State Department spokesman Mark Toner would not come out against the European Commission’s movement to label Israeli settlement products Tuesday, even after he admitted that the labels could "be taken as a boycott."
Toner dodged numerous questions about the Obama administration’s stance on the EC’s proposed product label guidelines.
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When Associated Press reporter Matt Lee first asked for the United States’ stance on the guidelines, Toner referred him to the European Union.
"The administration has opposed this in the past, and I’m just wondering if you guys have made your opposition to it clear recently?" Lee asked.
"This issue is still under discussion within the European Commission," Toner said. "I would refer you to the E.U. for the latest."
"I don’t want to be referred to the E.U. to find out what the U.S. thinks about something," Lee replied. He then asked once again whether the Obama administration was opposed to the labeling, why, and whether the issue has been raised with the E.U.
Toner again avoided answering and said that the U.S. opposes boycotts of Israel as well as Israeli settlements.
"Our position on boycotts targeting the state of Israel has not changed. We oppose efforts to isolate or de-legitimize the state of Israel," he said. "That said, the long-standing bipartisan position of the United States on Israeli settlements has also not changed."
He called the settlements "illegitimate" and said that they were "harmful to prospects for peace and to Israel’s long-term security."
Toner said that the labeling guidelines should not come as a surprise.
"If Israel continues to expand settlement activity, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if some in the international community pursue steps to limit commercial relations with the settlements," he said.
Lee then asked Toner whether the EC’s move to label settlement products counted as a boycott.
"Do you think that it [labeling] is the same thing as a boycott, which you would oppose?" he asked.
Initially, Toner said that the labeling could be perceived as a boycott.
"It’s not a boycott per se but could be taken as a boycott," he said.
He then backed away from his initial statement, saying that the labeling "could be perceived as a step on the way to a boycott."
"So just to summarize, you oppose boycotts, but you will not say whether you oppose steps that could lead to boycotts," Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammed said.
"Correct," Toner said.
Toner continued to repeat that the Obama administration is opposed to boycotts, stressing that the labeling was "still a matter under discussion."